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Can I get free therapy or counselling?

You can get free psychological therapies like cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) on the NHS.

You can refer yourself directly to an NHS psychological therapies service (IAPT) without a referral from a GP.

If you prefer, talk to a GP and they can refer you.

Psychological therapies services are also known as Improving Access to Psychological Therapies (IAPT) services.

What are psychological therapies?

Psychological therapies, sometimes called talking therapies, can help with common mental problems like stress, anxiety and depression.

Which therapy you're offered depends on which one has been shown to be most helpful for your symptoms.

Here are a few examples:

  • CBT – this aims to improve your mental wellbeing by helping you understand how your thoughts can lead to unhelpful emotions and behaviours (see more about CBT)
  • guided self help – a therapist supports you as you work through a self-help course in your own time, either using a workbook or an online course
  • counselling for depression – a type of counselling developed specially for people with depression

Psychological therapies are offered in different ways, including:

  • using a self-help workbook with the support of a therapist
  • as an online course
  • over the phone
  • one-to-one
  • in a group

See more psychological therapies available on the NHS

What can psychological therapies help with?

You do not need to have a diagnosed mental health problem to refer yourself to an NHS psychological therapies service.

You may be:

  • having panic attacks
  • struggling with flashbacks and nightmares
  • feeling low and hopeless

Perhaps you're finding it hard to cope with work, life or relationships.

Other things that psychological therapies can help with include:

  • constant worrying
  • obsessive thoughts or behaviours
  • fear of social situations
  • constant worry about your health
  • phobias

If you have already been diagnosed with a mental health problem, you can still refer yourself to a psychological therapies service (or a GP can refer you).

Who can have psychological therapies on the NHS?

You need to be registered with a GP to get psychological therapies on the NHS, but you do not need a referral from a GP.

You can refer yourself directly to a psychological therapies service.

Find a psychological therapies service in your area

Depending on where you live, you'll also need to be aged 16, 17, 18 or over. You need to check this with individual services.

Children and young people who are not eligible for psychological therapies can get support with mental and emotional problems from their local child and adolescent mental health service (CAMHS).

What happens when you refer yourself

  1. Contact your local psychological therapies service.
  2. Someone from the service will get in touch, usually within a few weeks.
  3. They'll ask for more details about the problems you're having. This is known as an assessment.
  4. If the service thinks they can help you, they'll recommend a therapy for you. This is based on your symptoms and how severe they are.
  5. Waiting times for the first session vary. The service will tell you what to expect.


If you need urgent help, call Samaritans free on 116 123 or email

Or if you have contact details for a mental health crisis team, you can contact them.

Does my GP have to know?

A psychological therapies service will not contact your GP without your permission, unless they believe you're at risk of harming yourself or other people.

Other places that offer free help

Some employers provide free counselling for their employees. Ask your HR department.

Most colleges and universities offer free counselling to students who need it.

Some charities offer cheap or free talking therapies or group support.

These include:

  • Mind for mental health problems
  • Cruse for bereavement care
  • Relate for relationship counselling

You can also find mental health apps and tools in the NHS apps library.

Media last reviewed: 5 September 2018
Media review due: 5 September 2021

Page last reviewed: 28 August 2018
Next review due: 28 August 2021